This Electrifying Peruvian Restaurant Might Be Rockridge’s Most Underrated Oakland Spot


The first time I dined at Pucquio (pronounced POOK-yo), a Peruvian restaurant in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, I came across the staff enjoying sushi on a slow night. It was a cold, sleepy Friday, with the occasional sleepy pedestrian walking his dog along College Avenue, and I could see the rest of the little restaurant was empty. That didn’t dampen my cravings for ceviche, so I went straight in.

What followed was a torrent of small plates highlighted by remarkably hard-hitting ceviches. Bathed in the warmth of heaters attached to a propane tank inside the restaurant’s parklet, I stayed well past the 10 p.m. closing time. I was tempted to shout at every passer-by to join me.

Ceviche is widely available throughout the Bay Area, including a few Peru-focused spots like Mistura in Oakland or El Mono in El Cerrito. What sets Peruvian cebiche (as it’s spelled in Peru) apart is the textural interplay, with ingredients like sweet potato and hominy, which act as a sweet, starchy respite from all the acidity and heat. While cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes are used for texture in Mexican ceviches and aguachiles, they often lack the same balance or complexity as the Peruvian versions, which have more breadth and flavor. In other words, you’re less likely to be disappointed with a Peruvian ceviche than a Mexican.

Pucquio serves top notch cebiches like this Cebiche De Trucha in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

A cebiche is a delicate dance; if the limes are not squeezed gently, they impart a bitter flavor to the rind. If the fish is marinated too long, it loses its bounce. If the dish is not served soon enough, the freshness that brings all the ingredients together is lost.

5337 College Avenue, Oakland.

Opening hours: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Saturday.

Take, for example, Pucquio’s cebiche de pescado, made with a marinade made from four fundamental ingredients: lime juice, salt, sliced ​​red onion, and Peruvian aji limo pepper. It’s designed to showcase the freshness of meaty rockfish, caught daily in the Bay Area. In this one, the fish is covered with sea lettuce and ugo (seaweed) around the edges to form a spiny perimeter.

The acidity of the dish is striking, electrifying the white fish, while the corn and potato lend a certain sweetness. The addition of seaweed brings a touch of umami.

Chef and owner Carlos Moreira has perfected this dance. At Pucquio, sweet potato and hominy are found in almost all of their cebiches, including the cebiche de pescado.

For drinking, pair it with Pucquio’s pisco sour, made with soju since the restaurant doesn’t have a full liquor license. Shaken until it foams, it is a sweet and intensely acidic drink.

Pucquio's Mosaico Cebichero is a kind of seafood tower with slices of redfish and trout making up the base.

Pucquio’s Mosaico Cebichero is a kind of seafood tower with slices of redfish and trout making up the base.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

Other Pucquio cebiches are made with variations on leche de tigre, which Moreira calls a “mother sauce,” a mixed sauce, unlike the marinade in fish cebiche. For the mosaico cebichero, leche de tigre is made with aji limo peppers, ginger, garlic, celery and lime juice. In others, like cebiche mixto, the sauce is an emulsion made with rocoto peppers, olive oil and smoked salt.

The mosaico is a kind of seafood tower with slices of redfish and trout forming the base. Surrounding the tower like a moat is a shallow leche de tigre pool. Continuing the aquatic theme, Moreira rounds out the dish with plates of sea lettuce and seaweed. A variety of ingredients add crunch and saltiness to the dish: fish skin crackers, fried corn, puffy hominy kernels, yam crisps and thin shavings of ginger. The acid is dazzling, tangy yet balanced, with a sly heat that builds slowly.

Everything is enough to activate the senses but not to overwhelm them. Double the heat and follow it up with a michelada, a special rotating drink that’s enhanced with leche de tigre.

While the cebiches alone are reason enough to return to Pucquio, sampling the breadth of Moreira’s cuisine just might make you a regular.

Beyond cebiche, dishes like confit chicharron are a highlight of the menu.

Beyond cebiche, dishes like confit chicharron are a highlight of the menu.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

Confit chicharron features a slice of pork belly cooked in oil, its skin seared until crispy, layered on a purple corn mash topped with yam crisps. It’s a melody of melting pork fat and starchy corn, with the fries and pork skin a satisfying crispy counterpoint. Chupe de camarones, Moreira’s take on a soothing Peruvian soup, is a thick shrimp bisque served with rice and its only dish that uses dried chiles called aji panca, a red pepper that is rehydrated and pureed. Its warm and soothing properties make it an ideal meal on a cold evening in Rockridge.

Eating inside is an option. Pucquio offers a warm and intimate dining room where wood is given pride of place: benches line the walls and beams stretch to the ceiling. Bar seating overlooking the kitchen adds to the comfort. In its small front park, Pucquio can host large and small parties; the dividers between the tables make it possible to personalize the seats.

Pucquio has quietly wowed diners since it opened in 2013. Like most other restaurants, however, the past two years have proven to be tough. Pucquio relies heavily on fresh ingredients; everything is ordered in just the right amount so nothing goes to waste, especially since the restaurant has been denied government loans. Moreira used to have a lunch menu but now only serves dinner. It closes Sunday and Monday to allow time to prepare for the rest of the week. Last year, the team consisted of just Moreira and Kevin Romero, the only staff member in the room.

What drives it forward? “The respect for the elements and the love you put into it,” he says. “It’s that simple.”

If cebiche is a church for worshiping acid and fish, then Pucquio is a monastery, welcoming everyone to express their devotion. Finally, a church that I can support. Catch me in the front row, submitting to the higher power that is cebiche.

Cesar Hernandez is The Chronicle’s Associate Food Critic. Email: [email protected]: @cesarischafa


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